Who’s liable when you slip and fall on someone else’s property?
Though most of us fear plane crashes, terrorist attacks, and sudden illness, slip and fall accidents are actually far more likely statistically. In fact, slip and falls are the second leading cause of death in the world.
If you slip and fall on someone else’s property in Indiana, premises liability laws determine whether the property owner can be held liable.
Let’s take a closer look.
Locations and causes of slip and fall accidents
Slip and fall accidents can happen on public or private property. Some of the most common locations include:
- Retail stores
- Parking lots
- Private homes
There are all sorts of factors that might contribute to a slip and fall accident. Some common factors include:
- Snow and ice
- Spilled drinks or other slippery substances
- Protruding objects
- Holes or cracks
- Abrupt changes in elevation
Noelene Stewart v. Daben Realty Co.
Noelene Stewart slipped and fell in the recently-waxed lobby of an Indianapolis office building owned and maintained by Daben Realty.
Noelene injured her hip as a result of the fall and sued Daben Realty for $46,000.
The court explained that the mere fact that a floor is slippery due to the application of wax isn’t sufficient to establish liability. However, the court pointed out that the wax was applied negligently by Daben Realty. Specifically, the wax lacked uniformity in distribution, resulting in “inconspicuous slick spots upon which an ordinarily careful walker might slip.”
The court ruled that Daben Realty was liable for Noelene’s injuries.
Establishing liability in an Indiana slip and fall case
To establish that a property owner is liable for the injuries you suffered in a slip and fall accident, you generally have to prove the elements of negligence:
- The property owner had a duty to protect you from harm,
- The property owner breached their duty to protect you from harm, and
- You were injured as a direct result of their breach.
The focus of slip and fall litigation is generally on the duty owed by the property owner.
In Indiana, the specific duty owed depends on the status of the plaintiff at the time they fell:
|Invitee||An individual who is invited or permitted to enter the premises for the benefit of the owner (for example, a customer in a retail store).||An owner owes an invitee the highest degree of care, which includes the duty to locate and fix (or provide a warning about) any dangerous conditions.|
|Licensee||An individual who is on the premises with permission from the owner for their own convenience, curiosity, or entertainment (for example, a hunter on private property).||An owner has a duty to:
|Trespasser||An individual who is on the premises without permission from the owner.||An owner has a duty to:
Determining whether or not a property owner breached their duty is not always straightforward.
Consider the following example:
Jim walks into a restaurant and heads for a table in the back. On his way to the table, he slips on a spilled fountain drink and injures his knee.
Is the restaurant liable?
Because Jim is an invitee, the restaurant owes him a duty to locate and fix (or warn him about) any dangerous conditions. The spilled fountain drink is certainly a dangerous condition.
However, the law doesn’t require property owners to be superhuman. If the drink was spilled seconds before Jim walked into the restaurant, the court probably won’t hold the restaurant liable for failing to clean up the mess. On the other hand, if the drink was spilled 30 minutes before Jim walked into the restaurant, the court will probably hold the restaurant liable.
The bottom line:
Slip and fall cases are very fact-specific. Supporting evidence, such as witness testimony and security footage, is critical.
Who’s liable for a slip and fall accident?
It’s not always easy to tell who specifically is liable for a slip and fall accident. For example, if you slip and fall on a foreign substance in a retail store, the following parties could be liable:
- The owner of the retail company
- The owner of the building
- The company hired to maintain the building
- An independent contractor working in the building
It’s your lawyer’s job to determine who may be liable and to make sure each potentially liable party is included in the lawsuit or insurance claim.
What happens when a slip and fall accident occurs at work?
If you’re injured as a result of a slip and fall accident at work, you can generally file a workers’ compensation claim.
Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that provides financial benefits to employees who are injured on the job. Unlike a personal injury lawsuit, the employee doesn’t need to prove that someone was at fault for the accident in order to receive benefits. Rather, the employee simply needs to prove that the injury occurred while they were completing a work-related task.
What if you’re partially at fault for your slip and fall accident?
Indiana follows the modified comparative fault rule. Under this rule, a plaintiff’s damages are reduced by their percentage of fault. What’s more, if the plaintiff is considered more than 50% at fault for the accident, the plaintiff is barred from recovering any damages.
Common examples of circumstances in which a plaintiff may be found partially at fault include:
- The plaintiff was using their phone or otherwise distracted when they fell
- The plaintiff was running when they fell
- The plaintiff was wearing inappropriate footwear under the circumstances
- The plaintiff was on a part of the premises where they weren’t allowed or where they weren’t expected to be when they fell
- The plaintiff was intoxicated when they fell
What damages are available in an Indiana slip and fall case?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 out of every 5 falls results in serious injury.
Fortunately, Indiana allows plaintiffs in slip and fall cases to recover both economic damages (medical bills, lost wages, etc.) and non-economic damages (pain and suffering). Additionally, plaintiffs can recover punitive damages if the defendant acted with malice, fraud, or gross negligence.
If a loved one died as a result of a slip and fall, certain family members can recover damages by filing a wrongful death lawsuit.
Statute of limitations
A statute of limitations puts a time limit on your right to file a lawsuit. In Indiana, you have 2 years from the date of the injury to file a lawsuit in a slip and fall case. There are a few exceptions but these are rare. Generally, if you fail to file a lawsuit within this time limit, you will lose your right to file a lawsuit.
Are you ready to take the next step and meet with an attorney? Our free online directory of experienced Indiana personal injury attorneys can help get you started.